Cairns was a brutal batsman who could hit big sixes straight down the ground when on song and in his earlier days was an intelligent fast-medium bowler. Since then, persistent injuries have forced him to drop his pace and rely more on his hard-to-read slower ball.
With the bat, Cairns has been the author of some of New Zealand cricket's most memorable innings, including his unbeaten 102 to win the final of the 2000 ICC KnockOut Trophy (now the Champions Trophy) for NZ against India in Kenya, and his 158 from just 172 balls in a Test against South Africa in 2004. Cairns famously knocked Shane Warne out of Australia's bowling attack during a 2000 test in Wellington when he launched several sixes out of the Basin Reserve and onto the adjacent street. Cairns formerly held the world record for most sixes in Tests (87, since surpassed by Adam Gilchrist), and shared the NZ record for fastest century in ODIs (75 balls, since surpassed by Craig McMillan).
He is also one of only seven players to have reached the all-rounder's double of 200 wickets and 3000 runs. Out of these seven players, Cairns reached the double 2nd fastest (58 Test) behind Ian Botham. In ODIs, Cairns came agonisingly close to another double of 200 wickets and 5000 runs. Cairns finished his ODI career on 4950 runs, just 50 short. Cairns Test batting average at number 7 (44.02) is the 5th best average for that position of all time.
The New Zealand Herald journalist, Richard Boock said this about Cairns -
- "It's not a scientific measure of course, but if Cairns' body had held together long enough for him to have played 100 Tests, his figures extrapolate out to something like 5334 runs and 351 wickets - very similar to those of Botham." He went on to say "He was, and should be remembered as, one of the game's best all-rounders."
Cairns also played in the World Cricket Tsunami Appeal ODI, at the MCG. Cairns played for the ICC World XI and scored 69 off 47 balls before being stumped by Kumar Sangakkara off the bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan. During his innings, Cairns put a 91 run partnership on with captain, Ricky Ponting. With the ball, Cairns picked up 37-1 off 6 overs.
Injuries plagued Cairns throughout his career and perhaps contributed to his statistics not quite matching his perceived ability. There remains some controversy about how good a player he actually was. In Cairns career he played 62 Test and missed 55 due to injury.
Cairns retired from the New Zealand Test team in 2004. On January 22 2006, Cairns announced his retirement from ODIs in a tear-filled press conference. A Twenty20 match against the West Indies on February 16 2006 was his last game representing New Zealand. He was also part of the ICC World XI that played in the World Cricket Tsunami Appeal matches.
The New Zealand Herald compared his retirement to those of Michael Jordan and Björn Borg on February 15 2006. Cairns also left the door open for a comeback, but said "I don't think I could ever be tempted back".
In Cairns' final game, he bowled 4 overs for 24 and no wicket and scored 0 off 9 balls with the bat and was cleanly bowled by Chris Gayle. He also missed the stumps in both attempts during the bowl off. Cricinfo describe his final international as "an unfitting farewell" and that "he deserved better". Dwayne Bravo took his final wicket, bowled.
His sister Louise was killed at Rolleston in an August 1993 train accident; in September 2008 he completed a 1,001 km walk promoting rail safety awareness.